Books Of Oa: Green Lantern Sector 2814 Volume 1

Green_Lantern_Sector_2814_vol_01 Green Lantern: Sector 2814 Vol. 1 (DC)
Written by Len Wein, drawn by Dave Gibbons
Collects Green Lantern #172-176, 178-181

As regular UM readers will know, I’m kind of in love with the idea of space cops patrolling the galaxy and keeping people safe. I’ve mostly written about Geof Johns’ run here on the site, but I actually got my start back when Hal Jordan went nuts and the young gun known as Kyle Rayner took over for him. As such, my experience with Hal Jordan before the mid 90s was slim. I resented that all the old comic readers wanted to seem him return and thought he was boring (because, like them, he was old).

But, this is a pretty interesting character, if you’re into dudes who struggle with balancing duty with their own impetuous nature. Those are the traits on display in Len Wein and Dave Gibbons’ first combined arc which started by asking whether Hal would be able to return to earth. Apparently, before this book, he was told to stay away for a full year and finally got the go-ahead to head back to see his gal Carol Ferris and, well, that’s about it. He only really seems to care about his work friends and her in this particular arc.

In addition to rekindling things with his special lady, Hal found himself tangling with the likes of future Suicide Squad member Javelin, The Shark, Demolition Team, Predator (who would later show up in my beloved Extreme Justice) and even the Guardians! What’s that you say? Yup, Ha gets bent out of shape when he’s called to go save an entire planet while Ferris Air is under attack. Apparently that’s a bad thing in his mind, but to the casual, non-10-year-old observer, it just makes perfect sense. At the end of the day, he winds up quitting the GL Corps. WHAT?! Yup, to be continued in Sector 2814 Volume 2 (which I don’t have, so we’ll see how long it takes for a review of that one).

While I don’t know if I’ll ever feel super in line with Hal Jordan’s way of thinking, I still really enjoyed this book. It felt like a solid return to some of the goofy Silver Age stuff I’ve read but never really written about because I think it’s pretty silly. Wein and Gibbons take that and put it all through a more modern prism which feels real, honest and adult. I especially found myself marveling over Gibbons’ work. He’s an artist who everyone knows from Watchmen, but I have very little experience with aside from that. Here he gets to play superhero and it looks great. It also looks super bright thanks to colors by Anthony Tollin. This might be one of the brightest, most enjoyable reading experiences of my comic book reading career. All of that earns this book a place on my shelf and an eye towards future volumes.

Superman Trade Post: Mongul, & The Power Within

superman vs mongul Boy oh boy do I have a lot of Superman trades lying around waiting to be read. I figured I’d do something about it and made my way through this batch here starting with Superman Vs. Mongul which collects stories from DC Comics Presents #27, 28, 36, 43 as well as “For The Man Who Has Everything” from Superman Annual #11.

As a longtime, albeit post-Crisis fan of Superman’s I thought I knew all about Mongul, the villain planted the Black Mercy on Supes and later teamed with Cyborg to destroy Coast City. It turns out Mongul actually had several appearances before that written and drawn by the likes of Len Wein, Jim Starlin, Paul Levitz and Curt Swan.

The opening two-parter finds Mongul blackmailing Superman into getting him the key to Warworld from Martian Manhunter (who’s hanging out on a planet called New Mars apparently). From there he teams up with Supergirl to stop Mongul which works pretty well until he appears again a few months later. This time, Supes partners with the Starman of space to fight off the yellow madman. The third DCP story then teams Supes with the Legion to fight Mongul delightfully drawn by Swan, the man born to draw Silver Age Superman and his pals. Fun fact: Mongul has a strange ability to shrink people and put them in clear boxes that he uses in every one of these appearances.

I actually didn’t read Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ “For The Man…” this time around because I can only take so many “he’s living in a fake reality!” stories and am no stranger to this one specifically. However, if you’re looking for another reason to buy this trade, that might push you over the edge.

dc universe special superman mongulReading Superman Vs. Mongul reminded me that I also had a copy of DC Universe Special: Superman #1 which actually features all Mongul stories. This book came out in 2008 which the big yellow bastard was a big time player in the Green Lantern books and, much to my surprise (especially given the re-use of its rad Ryan Sook cover for the above collection) has no overlap with the SVM book.

This reprint floppy includes a story from Superman #32 by Roger Stern and Kerry Gammill, the two part Showcase ’95 tale by Peter J. Tomasi and Scot Eaton and an appearance in Flash #102 by Mark Waid, Micahel Jan Friedman and Oscar Jimenez. The first is part of Superman’s time away from Earth where he had amnesia and fought on Warworld, the second shows what happens when a prison tries to mess with Mongul’s memory and the third pits Wally West against the villain. I’m actually a big fan of the Showcase story and am pretty sure it’s not collected anywhere else, so for that alone, this one’s worth the price of admission. As an added bonus, Tomasi wrote many of the Mongul issues of the Green Lantern saga.

superman the power withinI also made my way through Superman: The Power Within, an odd little collection that brings together the Superman strips from when Action Comics went weekly (#601-641 to be exact) and the three part story, “The Sinbad Contract” from Action #658, Superman #48 and Adventures #471.

The former, written by Roger Stern and drawn by Superman legend Curt Swan, is a series of two¬† page spreads told in the style of comic strips with a good deal of recap. I’m sure that helped readers pick up on details they would have otherwise missed reading the weekly adventures, but it can make the all-at-once reading experience a bit slow. The story itself revolves around a guy named Bob Galt who’s part of a Superman god cult and a group that thinks he’s the anti-Christ known as the Consortium. Ultimately there’s a big villain reveal that I didn’t see coming, but it would have been nice to see Superman and said bad guy square off a bit more (as it is, the villain’s only in three strips).

Swan also penciled the “Sinbad” story which was penned by Bill Messner-Loebs. This one’s about a pair of Muslim siblings who wind up with a special power belt that belongs to Lex Luthor. While much of it is about the boy and his older sister trying to figure out what to do with the newfound power, the three-parter also heavily deals with the idea of anti-Muslim sentiment and how it can be used as a weapon more powerful than the aforementioned belt.

As a big Superman fan, I will be keeping all three of these books in my collection. I’ve gotten much better at letting go of trades and donating them to the library, but I have a much harder time doing that with pre-New 52 Superman trades. There’s just so much greatness in this character that I want to hang on to these books to flip back and watch him defeat Mongul again or deal with problems a lot more complicated than bank robberies or alien invasions.

Halloween Scene Trade Post: DC Comics Classics Library Roots Of The Swamp Thing

DC Comics Classics Library Roots Of The Swamp Thing (DC)
Written by Len Wein, drawn by Benrie Wrightson & Nestor Redondo
Collects House Of Secrets #92, Swamp Thing Volume 1 #1-13

It took me a long time to get through this book. That’s in no way a judgement on the content, but more on my attention span which had to adjust to a very different kind of comic book writing than what I’m used to with modern comics. The thing I realized while reading through these Len Wein-written issues of Swamp Thing is that comics like this used actually be pretty literary. Nowadays, you mostly get word balloons and the occasional thought box, but Wein was actually writing ambiance type stuff, not just boring old set-up stuff like you’d see in Golden or Silver Age stuff. I also realized that this is very much in the tradition of the horror comics made famous, popular and infamous by EC Comics.

In the one film class I took in college the professor talked about film genres being on a kind of spectrum. You’ve got the original thing, the classic, the parody and the revision. If you’re talking westerns that would be like The Great Train Robbery then The Man With The No Name, Blazing Saddles and back to Unforgiven. I think that’s part of what I was experiencing with this book. I’ve read some EC horror comics and they’re pretty formulaic with a set-up, gruesome stuff and then a twist ending. I feel like Swamp Thing kept that style of comic writing and moved it closer to if not all the way to the classic territory.

This is a long way to go to say that, while these comics definitely don’t read like modern ones, I wound up really enjoying them. This will not come as a surprise to Wein fans, but he’s killer with words, which is interesting because we mostly learn about Swamp Thing through thought balloons as he mostly doesn’t talk. It also helps that Wrightson might be one of the best comic book artists of all time. He took a lot of what was done in the EC books and takes it up a notch. I also really enjoyed that this book does not just stick with horror themes, but also includes stories where Swamp Thing fights robots, meets Batman and mutant monsters. I’m a big fan of variety and this book has it.

I just realized I’ve written all these paragraphs without really explaining what this collection is. This hardcover from DC’s Classics Library series of books brings together the very first Swamp Thing story from House of Secrets as well as the series it spawned a year or so later, starring the now famous Alec Holland version of the character. We see his transformation and his trip around the world and cross country, which usually makes him cross paths with Matthew Cable, a secret agent who thinks he killed Holland, and his gal pal and daughter of his enemy Abigail Arcane. While there’s an overarching story following Swampy’s new life, these issues are mostly one and dones that get weird and wild. Highly recommended if you’re interested in checking out a great comic that’s also a pretty damn important piece of comic history, check it out already!

The Weirdness Of Swamp Thing

Swamp Thing is a pretty weird character and not just because he’s spent a few decades in the Vertigo universe being written by guys like Len Wein, Alan Moore, Rick Veitch, Grant Morrison, Mark Millar, Brian K. Vaughan, Andy Diggle and Will Pfeifer among many others. In his first appearance–the above House Of Secrets #92 from 1971–Swamp Thing is actually a different dude and not the more familiar Alec Holland. His name was Alex Olson and this was his only appearance. Swamp Thing was later resurrected by his creators Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson for an ongoing series starring Holland’s version of Swamp Thing. You can check out these early appearances in DC’s DC Comics Classics Library Roots Of The Swamp Thing hardcover. I’ve only read the intro by Wein and the first couple issues, but it’s pretty fun horror stuff. The series went along for a while and then the inimitable Alan Moore came along and added his unique view to the character, thusly introducing himself to the general American comics audience. Moore came along and started on the title with 1984’s Swamp Thing #20, eventually joined by artist Stephen Bissette. At that time the book wasn’t included under the Vertigo banner because Vertigo wouldn’t come into existence until 1993, yet, the Vertigo logo appears on many of the reprints, like the somewhat recent Saga Of The Swamp Thing volumes which seem set out to reprint all of Alan Moore’s issues (Swamp Thing #20-58, 60-61, 63-64, Annual 2). I’ve read some of this stuff, though not yet in the aforementioned Saga hardcover format, though I do have it on my to-read pile, possibly after I acquire a few more of the volumes. Like I said, the comic would go on to become a big part of Vertigo in the 90s and carry on through part of the 2000s, but that’s not what makes him such a weird character. That would be his exposure to regular people thanks to two movies, a live action television series, an animated series, two video games and a line of action figures. To put that into some kind of perspective, that puts Swamp Thing into the same place as characters like Superman, Batman, Spider-Man and Wolverine. Yeah, just think about that for a moment. That’s right, Swamp Thing starred in not one, but two movies. The first one was written and directed by master of horror Wes Craven of all people and starred the bodacious Adrienne Barbeau and convention staple Dick Durock as Swampy, who unfortunately passed away last year. The flick came out in 1982, which puts it before Moore’s run on the book, though I’m sure it was a big influence on his writing. I know that I’ve seen the movie fairly recently, but I couldn’t tell you anything I remember about it and I didn’t blog about it, so that means I obviously need to watch it again. 1989 saw the follow-up to the Craven flick starring Heather Locklear and directed by Jim Wynorksi who directed Chopping Mall (which I swear I blogged about, but can’t find anywhere), Ghoulies IV and The Lusty Busty Babe-a-que starring Tough Love’s Rocky. I have zero recollection of this movie, but you’ve got to give it some credit for getting made (maybe).

Sure it looks more like a Toxic Avenger sequel than a legit superhero movie, but you’ve got to remember that there were very few legit superhero movies at the time (basically Superman, Superman II and that year’s Batman). Maybe I’ll check it out on Hulu. Anyway, after the release of the sequel, cable network USA kicked off a live action series in 1990 called Swamp Thing (you can watch the first season on Hulu or check out the full series on DVD) that also starred Durock. The show lasted three seasons, totaling 72 episodes, which puts it one season and 15 episodes behind Lois & Clark: The New Adventures Of Superman.

But a live action series wasn’t the only Swamp Thing on television in the early 90s as the USA version was joined by an animated series in 1991 which ran on Fox for only five episodes and tied in with a toy line from Kenner which outlasted the cartoon considerably. You can buy the full series on an out-of-print DVD. Before getting into the toys, which I do remember fondly, here’s a look at the cartoon opener which involves an awkward reworking of “Wild Thing” to fit Swamp Thing’s name in.

I have a very distinct memory of seeing this cartoon at my then-friend’s house when I was about 8. He had had a big sleepover the night before for his birthday, we were all eating breakfast while the show was on and there might have even been Swamp Thing-related cups and plates, which is probably why I remembered it lasting longer than it’s measly five episodes. Like I said though, the toys made a much bigger impression on me. I swiped these images from the ever-amazing Virtual Toy Chest, which has even more on display on their Swamp Thing page. What I liked about the line was the crazy action features. I was even able to work my version of the guy in this picture on the far left into ToyFare’s greatest action features feature which was a ton of fun to write. If you pulled his arm or leg the threads holding the figure in the upright position would loosen and he’d collapse into a pile of swampness. The middle guy completely glows in the dark as do his axe and mace while the guy on the right changes color with water making him look all brown (if memory serves).There were also a series of villains with rubber monster heads that went over their actual heads. Here’s a video of a guy’s collection of them on display in a room still in the packaging.

Oh, I almost forgot, here’s some footage of the game. There was a version NES and Game Boy, but it looks pretty subpar to me.

But, of course, the Swamp Thing media monster could not last forever and by the mid-90s he was relegated back the long boxes and comic shops for the most part. There has been talk about a new movie by Joel Silver, possibly in 3D and even talk about bringing the character back into the regular DC Universe which he used to be a firm part of. We’ll see where our weird swampy friend goes from here, but he’s already had a more impressive life than 90% of the comic characters out there.